Stripes on top in Mexico

Monterrey got the better of Cruz Azul in a thrilling two-legged play-off final to become Mexican champions for the third time in their history. It proved to be an emotional occasion for Los Rayados players, who dedicated their successful campaign to club legend Antonio De Nigris, the victim of a heart attack last month in Greece, where he was playing for Larissa.

Monterrey’s triumph also marked the end of an era, with retiring midfielder Jesus Arellano bowing out at the top, and striker Humberto Suazo also calling time on his prolific spell at the club. The Chilean is packing his bags for Europe after making a memorable contribution in Mexico over the last few years.

The podium
As well as ending the season in style, Los Rayados were also one of the most consistent performers during the regular season. Solid at the back and lethal up front, Monterrey qualified for the eight-team championship play-offs in a comfortable fourth position. And Victor Manuel Vucetich’s side lost none of their effectiveness at the business end of the season, knocking out big names America and Toluca before collecting a third illustrious scalp in the final.

That defeat in the title decider was a major disappointment for Cruz Azul. Los Cementeros played some fine football in both legs and were in with a chance of turning the tie around in the closing minutes. Their efforts were to no avail, however, with a late Suazo strike in the second leg killing off their hopes and consigning them to the runners-up spot for the third time in the last four campaigns.

The surprises
Following a lengthy absence from the play-offs Monarcas Morelia made a strong showing this time around. Coached by former Mexico idol Tomas Boy, Monarcas figured prominently throughout the campaign thanks to a core of talented young Mexican players led by the inventive Elias Hernandez, midfielder Kalu Gastelum and the striker Miguel Sabah. And their compelling championship tilt only came to an end in a close semi-final with Cruz Azul.

The disappointments
Three teams who can usually be expected to mount a serious challenge all failed to match expectations. Defending champions Pumas UNAM never recovered from a disastrous start and ended the season last but one in the standings. Faring little better were Guadalajara, who showed no signs of improving on their lacklustre 2009 Clausura form, while Pachuca, the runners-up on that occasion, failed to come to terms with the departure of talismanic coach Enrique Meza.

The star men
Emanuel Villa was in a class of his own throughout. After pitching up at Cruz Azul the Argentinian front man quickly erased memories of a disappointing stay in England, getting in among the goals from the off. With the estimable assistance of Jaime Lozano, Villa outscored everyone with a haul of 17 goals in the regular season and added a couple more for good measure during the play-offs.

Also catching the eye was the relentless Suazo and strike partner Aldo De Nigris, who paid his late brother the best possible tribute by hitting four goals in the play-offs, with the likes of Jonathan Orozco, William Paredes, Duilio Davino, Osvaldo Martinez, Walter Ayovi and Luis Perez all playing their parts as Los Rayados charged to the title.

The top scorer
The exceptional Villa scored goals of every conceivable type throughout the campaign. His haul of 19 strikes comprised eight with his right foot, three with his left, six with his head, a free-kick and a penalty. All in all, quite a selection.

Did you know?
Cruz Azul have finished runners-up more times than any other team since the short-tournament format was introduced in 1996. Los Celestes have now lost four finals, much to the frustration of their increasingly impatient fans.

The words
“I was pleased by the team’s character, the quality of the players and their temperament. Those are the things that really count and they were vital to us winning the title.” Monterrey coach Victor Vucetich

The standings
Champions: Monterrey
Runners-up: Cruz Azul
Semi-finalists: Monarcas Morelia and Toluca

The goalscorers
17 goals: Emanuel Villa
13: Hector Mancilla
12: Salvador Cabanas
11: Javier Hernandez
9: Rafael Marquez